May 31, 2020

(Some general advice in the last few paragraphs)

One thing you should absolutely put on your radar: are you at all interested in grad school?

You have plenty of time to actually make the decision to go to grad school (plenty of people don't decide until years after graduating), but if you think it might even be a remote possibility, there are two things you absolutely need to do:

(1) Get STELLAR letters of recommendation. This is the most important thing to know, and you should consider that you'll need between 3 and 6 depending on your program.

(2) Keep your GPA above ~3.5 (landing something lower won't break your application, but it will make your life harder).

Lots of the career advice I've seen maps to getting SWE jobs in industry, where things like your undergrad GPA, research experience, and letters of recommendation don't matter as much. You can be a phenomenal engineer at a "prestigious" company (whatever that means to you) with a huge variety of undergrad track records (including not even going to college!). But just like getting a referral from someone who works at a certain company is a higher-signal (and easier) way to select an applicant to interview than trying to sort through a stack of resumes, getting a "referral" from a professor in the form of a letter of recommendation is a higher-signal way to filter applications than basically anything else. For research, grad school admissions committees tend to not care too much about internships / work experience, unless they're tied to research in some way. If you're interested in this, read the link at the end of this post [0].

Also, considering COVID-19's impact on engineering hiring right now, if you're having trouble finding an internship, doing a summer of undergraduate research can be a great backdoor to getting some hands-on experience, work with a professor, and

Generally, on the career side of things, I'd say spend a good chunk of time exploring what types of work you enjoy and find engaging. It's hard to predict what this will be when you're coming in, so do lots of small experiments to try to figure this out. Build small projects, reach out to professors and try your hand at research, join clubs and find other students who share your interests.

The last thing I'll say here is realize that there might be a whole set of career options you didn't even know existed coming in. Amongst my friends, the most common "discovered" post-graduate plan was (management) consulting, which virtually none of my friends knew existed coming into college, and many ended up getting excited about while there.

Overall, you'll be hard-pressed to find another space where you're surrounded by thousands of other people your age who are excited about learning, meeting each other, and working on ambitious stuff. There's way more to do and discover than there was in high school, but you'll also have to be much more active in finding and leveraging opportunities instead of waiting things to come to you. Work hard and explore, but also remember to make friends, let loose, find some parties, go on dates, stay healthy, and keep an open mind throughout. It's a wild ride, and it can be an incredibly rewarding handful of years. Good luck!

[0] https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~harchol/gradschooltalk.pdf